Every law firm, every company has a tell. New positions at your firm tell the world so much about your strategic intent. You can tell if the firm is bold, passive, locked in the past, or unsure about the future—but everyone will know what story you’re telling with these positions, if they examine them closely.
New job titles are one of the most reliable indicators of real change. Bold new strategies create new responsibilities. They demand new skills and create original titles. If and when you start recruiting outside the firm, you are broadcasting your plan.
Keep a keen eye on new hires, new positions, and listen closer when your phone rings—it could be about one of these strategic leadership positions destined to change the future of law. And, it will change the nature of client relationships for the better, especially when the following positions appear:
Head of National Pursuits
Responsible for driving the success of large-scale, strategic pursuits, this role takes ownership of all activities from the moment a partner says, “I want this client” to the follow-up and ultimate win. The HNP assembles their business development team using resources from across the firm, sets the strategy, and shapes the story and the pitch. The HNP also can say no, if it looks like a prospect is not worth the firm’s time and effort to pursue.
The HNP is responsible for all pursuits over a certain threshold amount (in revenue or potential fees), and actively pursues potential clients from the firm’s strategic target list. The HNP cuts across all organizational boundaries to secure a win. The HNP mostly defines strategy and approach—but will pitch at the mega opportunities.
National Business Development Partners
These are the firm’s best business developers who are also practicing attorneys. Firms have reallocated their billable hour targets, so these partners spend more time on business development activities. These partners operate nationally and globally to win the most important clients. They work with the HNP and local partners but clearly take the lead on pitches, briefings, and front-line business development. This team includes rising stars as well as rainmakers—the primary qualification is a strong ability to quickly engage and educate clients.
Like the HNP, this team develops business with potential clients over a certain threshold amount in revenues or potential fees, or targeted clients from the strategic target list.
Vice Chair – Clients
Responsible for all client-facing activities, this senior leader ensures the firm puts clients first in all its systems, protocols, practices, and activities. The Vice Chair – Clients makes sure the firm’s relationship partners receive and promptly act on feedback. This includes feedback from the countless interviews the Vice Chair – Clients conducts, as well as 3rd-party objective feedback to add granularity and depth to firm-gathered feedback. This role requires strong analytical skills to translate the data into actions the firm can use to drive revenue growth.
This Vice Chair individual is also responsible for managing the firm’s most important clients—those who are so important they are “house accounts”—truly a firm client. These are the largest 50 to 200 clients and are managed by senior partners who report to the Vice Chair.
The Vice Chair also works with relationship partners to develop detailed strategic account plans, identify the best resources from across the firm, and provide training in the care, handling, and development of the firm’s largest and most important clients. (This training is often a template for client service training throughout the rest of the firm.)
Chief Digital Officer
Law firms can easily drown in digital opportunities. The Chief Digital Officer ensures their firm thrives and harnesses opportunities in a strategic manner. The CDO drives growth for a law firm by integrating digital strategies, tactics, and investments to ensure each activity supports the others. These strategies include internal processes, legal work, knowledge management, client-facing processes, and recruiting, at a minimum. The CDO evaluates, anticipates, and plans for new digital strategies to ensure the firm is always one step ahead.
Partner in Charge of Client Experience
Looking beyond client service, this partner ensures clients receive the appropriate attention between matters, after cases, and throughout all points from matter inception moving forward. Client experience includes planned interactions, education, and value-added touch points every partner can use to keep relationships growing—even during downtime. Expect this partner to provide tools and templates for discussion, coaching in continuing client conversations, and a roadmap of when to reach out to clients with what.
A key component of this role is working with the Vice Chair – Clients to obtain ongoing, measurable feedback from clients to ensure the clients have a consistently superior experience with their team.
Partner in Charge of Alliances and Teaming
Kirkland doesn’t want small matters. So, they are building a network of firms they can refer to their clients to send the smaller deals. This is informal now, but will evolve. Law firms looking to drive profitability with this highly strategic approach look to team up with alliance partners and collaborators in key practices where small matters are intermingled with large matters. This is a two-way street. Huge benefits can be had for referrers and referees.
The most successful law firms will pick the alliance partners in advance and develop a network where smooth and easy transitions are the norm.
AI in legal isn’t coming—it’s already here, and is creating new types of lawyers. These attorneys learn and develop AI/knowledge-mining tools. From making legal services more efficient to being able to predict legal issues before they arise, dātAttorneys merge law and technology to vastly improve the client experience.
Independent Board Member
You can count the number of law firms with independent board members on 1 hand, maybe 2, if you look hard. Independent directors provide objectivity and outside perspective. Law firms will start to embrace these independent directors as a source of strength—and will use them to help develop more robust strategic plans.
PwC added 2 independent directors to their Board in June 2017. They set the precedent for all other professional services firms.
These positions (or equivalents) already exist in almost every other profession. They not only exist—but are critical components of success. Law firms can let these positions evolve or map out the positions and dive in now. Those diving in now will set the benchmark for everyone else—and clients will be the first to note the difference.